Gameblast 17 – 24 Hour Charity Gaming Marathon!

For the past couple of years I’ve done a 24 hour gaming stream for Special Effect, a charity that develops gaming systems for people with physical disabilities to allow them to take part in this fantastic hobby.  Seriously, click that link and take a look at some of the stuff they do.  The charity designates a weekend for people and groups of all sizes to take part in a 24 hour game-a-thon to raise money for this cause and I’ve been more than happy to take part!

People join in on the stream, and friends come around to join in the games and have a few drinks in the evening.  Some people are even kind enough to donate to the charity, resulting in around £600 being raised by my streams alone.  Last year Special Effect brought in over £70,000 thanks to participants and wonderful people willing to give a little money.

Rocket League logo
I bought this especially for the stream after some people suggested we play it. I was not good.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, I’d love for you to take part in some way!  I’ll be running a 24 hour stream on 21st February (yes, a Tuesday, but it’s the only time I can do it!) at 7AM GMT and it would be great to have some of you join the stream either watching, chatting or joining in.  Last year we had games of Rocket League with the stream viewers, co-op games of Helldivers and groups of people yelling at me to stop sucking at The Witness.  We had Transformers and drunken attempts to play Layers of Fear and hopefully this year we should carry on having a bunch of fun and raise some money too.

The Witness square puzzles
No. No! I am not doing this again!

If you would like to watch and join in in any capacity, the stream will be found here: Twitch And if you’re feeling really generous, you could even donate as much or as little as you’d like to a worthy cause here: Just Giving  Please don’t feel you have to donate or even watch a second of it, but if you are willing to it would be fantastic and I’d be honoured to have you giving up even a moment of your day for this.

Special Effect Logo
They’ve raised more and more money each year. Hopefully this year they’ll be able to breach £100,000!

Do you have any suggestions for games?  Early in the day it tends to just be me playing single player games, with some online multiplayer with chat later on followed by some local gaming in the evening.  Any suggestions would very much be welcome though, especially if they’re ones you’d want to play too!  Thanks for reading and please join me when the time comes for laughing at just how bad I am at games.

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Modern Gaming Is Actually Pretty Good – Arguing with myself.

Not so long ago, I did the very British thing and complained about some things.  Modern gaming is pretty rubbish to be fair.  There’s plenty wrong with the industry, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few positives we can focus in on!  So here we are, a few things about this hobby that I’m actually happy about!

I also want to see whether this post or the negative one gets more views!  Do you folks prefer positive or negative words?  Will you be more interested in what’s good about the industry or what’s bad?  I’m interested in the results!  Anyway, on with the words!

Indie development

Alright, so Early Access and Greenlight are often terrible, but the indie development scene has produced some absolute gold in recent years.  The likes of Hyper Light DrifterInside, and The Witness are all very successful and, love them or hate them, highly rated games.  It’s very unlikely that a major publisher would even think to take a risk on unusual games like these.  These are the developers that will drive the industry forward, trying new ideas and giving players experiences that Call of Duty 23 and FIFA 2043 just won’t.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with these games of course, it’s just nice to see developers being brave enough to try something new and put it out there for the players.

Fez happy!
Shame Phil Fish turned out to be a bit of a nutter.

Not to mention Kickstarter.  Whilst the video gaming side of Kickstarter has had a rough time lately, there are some very impressive looking games that are on their way thanks to crowd funding.  I for one am looking forward to Yooka-Laylee and Battletech, expecting them to be well made, polished games.  Mighty Number 9 has been a high profile flop, but there are still plenty of fresh, interesting ideas out there just begging to be made.

Choice

Games
Want to be a chainsaw wielding, zombie killing cheerleader? Sorted. Have the urge to be Ellen Page’s ghost friend? Fine. Or maybe pretending to be Optimus Prime? With the indie digital release scene and mobile market too, there’s pretty much a game for everyone.

This is almost an extension of the indie development point.  There is just so much choice these days (I might argue too much) when it comes to gaming.  Want to work in a kitchen with your friends?  There’s a game for that.  Fancy competing with an evil teddy bear in a battle of investigative wits?  Got you covered.  Feel the desperate urge to walk around a forest pretending to be a bear?  Yep, that’s a thing.  My point is that there is practically something for everybody who has even a passing interest in gaming these days.  Not all of them are good, far from it, but the fact that something like Euro Truck Simulator exists is a testament to how the industry has moved away from platformers and ultra-violence.

Price

Yes, I know I complained about microtransactions.  And I stand by my complaint that they should not be a feature in full priced releases.  But DLC is something that has allowed game prices to remain pretty much flat for a very long time.  Physical releases of console games in the UK have been hovering around the £40-£45 mark for many years in spite of an increase in VAT and inflation (not so much their digital costs).  PC games are even cheaper thanks to sensible digital distribution platforms like Steam and GOG and their regular sales events.

british-1-pound-coins
I don’t think I have enough money to make this pyramid myself. But it looks cool!

Further to this point, some DLC practices have been really rather good.  Whilst so many shooters are content to release another set of maps to play online, games like The Witcher 3 get enormous expansions the size of another full game.  There are some teams who genuinely seem to care about what happens to their game after release, and I’d love to see more of this.

Online passes failed

Do you remember online passes?  They were an attempt to cripple the second-hand games market by locking out the multiplayer portion of a game unless you entered a one time code or paid an additional fee.  Whilst I do appreciate that this existed as a way to offset losses suffered by used game being purchased rather than new copies, an attempt to lock out a portion of a game rather than giving a positive reason to buy a new copy garnered nothing but ill will from the vast majority of gamers.  I don’t know how much sales suffered as a result, but gradually over the years this punitive measure has thankfully dies out.

Online passes are terrible
Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be a thing anymore.

Now, I know where this is going for some people: what about PS+ and XBL Gold?  Well, yes, these models do force payment for online multiplayer.  But put simply, the extras that come with it are pretty great.  Two or more games gifted to you each month is pretty good, especially when some of them have been as good as Rocket League and the Tomb Raider reboot.  I don’t really play much multiplayer, so this has almost become a game subscription service, and I’m sure that’s the case for others too.  Now the Nintendo Switch version of this…well that’s a different story right now.

Ok, so there weren’t as many positives as negatives, and that last one was a bit of a backhanded positive point.  Still though, there are some things that are positive in this hobby these days.  Maybe even major publishers will start to take notice and have things developed that are outside their usual catalogue.  Gaming has the potential to go from strength to strength this generation, lets hope to see plenty of good to offset the bad!

Virginia – My most disappointing game of 2016

No spoilers here folks!  Read with confidence that no story elements will be mentioned in any depth.  Screenshots won’t give away much, if anything, either.

I like a good walking simulator.  You know, those games in which you travel through the world and experience the story, but interaction is limited.  The best ones allow you to take part in the story, or perhaps guide its direction somewhat.  Firewatch was a good example of this, there is plenty of exploration and what you say and do leads to different responses.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter adds a light puzzle element to the gameplay and has hidden sections that you can easily miss as you continue through the story.  Virginia does none of this and basically has you find the magic button that continues the story and little more.  This is not a good walking simulator to my mind.

Virginia Intro
We start of with a partially on rails section. There are no loading screens in the game at all, with instant camera cuts being very noticeable and technically impressive.

I had high hopes for this one.  It had been likened to Twin Peaks by many (which is a show I enjoyed immensely) and had a very interesting art style.  But this is not a game; this is a walking simulator in its original, derogatory sense.

We play as Anne, a newly qualified FBI agent who is sent to investigate a missing child in the small town of Kingdom, Virginia with her newly assigned partner Maria.  The whole game is played in first person in small environments that can be walked around at your leisure until you find the object/person you are meant to interact with to progress the scene.  There are hidden items to find, but finding them doesn’t seem to do much other than award you with the obligatory achievements.

virginia music
The Twin Peaks inspiration is visible throughout. You’ll even notice it in the music.

What’s very noticeable is that there is no dialogue throughout the game.  All information is conveyed either through very occasional papers given to you or through body language.  This is an interesting move, and could work quite well if there was a simpler story here.  There are so many bizarre dream sequences and visions that at times I had no clue what was going on.  Either a character with spoken lines or a simpler plot would have been ideal here, just to explain what was happening.  There were times where Anne (“me” for all intents and purposes) had worked something out and went to the next area, but I had no idea what she had worked out or why we had moved on.  Silent protagonists are fine.  Gordon Freeman is a perfect example of one in a world with an unclear plot; but he had people talking to him to explain why things were happening without explaining absolutely everything.  Either Virginia does not handle this well, or I’m not smart enough to follow what’s going on (both are possible!)

virginia environment
The environments are really rather impressive, although very small in most cases.

As the game moves on, it becomes clear that different characters have different, hidden goals (although I still have no idea what some of them were) and things aren’t quite what you expected.  As the end of the (roughly 2 hour) story approaches, the weird, dream-like scenes become more frequent and imply…something.  Honestly I’m not sure what happened at the end of the game beyond figuring out what happened to this missing boy (who doesn’t seem to be too important to the plot beyond the original reason for you traveling to Kingdom).  What I am sure of is that I don’t think I really played a game here.

virginia ending
The game takes a rather strange turn later on, making its convoluted plot even harder to follow.

There is almost no interactivity in this game.  Approach a new area, walk around looking at the admittedly pretty environments and listening to the stunning soundtrack (really, the music is fabulous and absolutely the highlight of the game for me), find the interactive object, watch the result and move to the next area.  Rinse and repeat for 2 confusing hours.  I was so disappointed by this.  Coming from playing Firewatch to this is like a step back in time in terms of what a game is.

virginia creepy
Occasionally creepy moments kept me interested in spite of not knowing what the hell was going on.

Virginia was developed by Variable State and published by 505 Games.  I played the game on Xbox One and wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re after an extremely abstract, non-interactive “game”.  Though the world looks pretty and the soundtrack is worth a listen to the extent that I intend to buy it separately.

Modern Gaming Is A Bit Rubbish – Some might call this a rant

Am I getting old?  I might be getting old.  Maybe I already am old, because I’m about to say that thing that I never thought I would.  You know, the “not as good as it used to be” thing.  Gaming isn’t as good as it used to be.  There, I said it.  Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe it’s that the gaming industry is getting a bit on the bloated side now, but there are some things about this hobby that have been winding me up lately because I’m such a grumpy old bugger now.  So here they are.  A bunch of things about a thing a like that really wind me up.  Enjoy my sadness!

Constant sequels, reboots, remakes and spin offs

Alright, these aren’t all bad.  DOOM and XCOM have great reboots and Dark Souls 3 is a top sequel.  But good god are there a lot of sequels these days.  Everything is a direct follow up, a spiritual successor or an unnecessary next installment of a game or series that had already tied up its plot nicely.  Gears of War 4 continues a story that was wrapped up nicely with a lacklustre follow up.  The Star Wars: Battlefront reboot was a weaker version of a classic game.  Look at Street Fighter V!  A venerable series treated poorly and released half finished to grab money from consumers who don’t know any better.

Metal Gear Survive looks bad
Why is this allowed to be a thing?

2017 has Metal Gear Survive on the horizon.  What the hell is that?  A well respected series of political intrigue and bonkers giant robots having a zombie survival game inserted into its catalogue.  Konami is Konami and Konami is the worst as its clearly just a cash grab now they’ve realised their pulling out of the main games industry was a bad move.  We have 2 Kingdom Hearts remakes coming this year along with a Bulletstorm re-release (although I really enjoyed the original).  And who was asking for a ToeJam and Earl resurrection?  Luckily, 2017 seems to have a good number of new IPs incoming.  Plus the indie scene is growing well with a number of games with seemingly fresh ideas on the way.  Maybe this year will see new games outpace the sequels.  Then again, there’s always Call of Duty.

Microtransactions

I get it.  It’s a free game, they have to make money somehow and selling card packs, or premium currency is how they do that.  What I object to is microtransactions in full priced games.  I have a problem with full priced games that sell items in the single and multiplayer modes that completely unbalance the game.  Treasure maps in Forza, resource packs in Dead Space 3, XP boosts in pretty much any multiplayer game you care to mention.  Anything that upsets the balance of a full priced game or have been added into a single player game simply to push people towards shortcuts that shouldn’t be needed really wind me up.

Microtransactions everywhere
You said it Buzz.

Now, I’m not talking about cosmetics so much.  Whilst those do irritate me, they don’t alter the game beyond having pretty colours on your gun.  Nor do most DLC practices annoy me (pre-order ones do, but more on that later) as the cost of games hasn’t changed much with inflation and companies need to ensure the increased cost of making a product is offset somehow.  But those little costs that can quickly add up are a blight on the industry as far as I’m concerned.  When a feature is added to a game solely so microtransactions can be included is bad form.  I’m looking at you Dead Space 3!

Pre-order Bonuses

Deus Ex Pre Order
No. No I will not “Augment my pre-order”

Oh just piss off with this!  Stop locking content out of your game if I don’t pre-order or buy the day one edition!  If publishers don’t have faith that their game is good enough to garner good reviews and earn my money, then don’t release it at all.  All this pre-order nonsense does is make me feel that you’re trying to take my money before I know if your game is actually good and worth the cost of entry.  This goes double for you Bethesda!  Not sending out review copies?  Why?  What are you trying to hide?  Is it bugs?  It’s bugs isn’t it!

Open World Games

No Man's Sky Logo
Didn’t play this one. Apparently I missed out on a whole lot of empty.

Every other game has to have an open world these days.  Is it to add longevity?  To give an illusion of value for money?  Perhaps.  I feel that Falcon509 discussed this far better than I will with his blog post here.  Anyway, I don’t have a problem with open worlds as much as the emptiness that pervades so many of them.  If you have an open world, put interesting things to do in it.  Saints Row (although I’m not a fan of the series) did this well, as did Watch Dogs 2.  But so many have huge expenses of nothing filled with meaningless collectibles and pointless side quests that distract from the main story far too much.  Just take a look at Mafia 2, L.A. Noire, and of course No Man’s Sky.  Big worlds with lots of nothing in them.  That’s not to say you should just throw in a million meaningless collectibles.  Turning your game into Assassin’s Creed: Unity‘s map is never going to be a good thing.

Achievements and Trophies

Achievement unlocked

I used to love these.  Achievement hunting was something I enjoyed and would look up the lists for games as they came out, hoping to see interesting and inventive ones.  Lots of games did too!  Fable II had ones that would encourage you to experience many aspects of the game.  Half-Life 2 was very creative with the Episode One one bullet challenge.  But now pretty much every game has “Kill 2 billion enemies” or “Collect 1300 sandwiches” or the ever present, ever annoying online achievements.  They’re just dull now for the most parts, but developers have to put them in (for console games at least).  They don’t have to be easy, just make them interesting, and ideally not a grind-fest.

Time

I don’t have as much of this as I used to.  Game developers, please respect my time and don’t waste it with aimless sections of game that add nothing to the experience!  Allow fast travel between locations, avoid unnecessarily long scripted animations (DOOM did these really well), and allow me to skip cutscenes if I choose to!

Well, that was cathartic.  Is there anything that really hacks your off about gaming these days?  Do you think I’m wrong and I’m just turning into a grouchy sod as my age continues to increase.  Let me know!

Deathtrap – A free game that I paid money for…

Deathtrap is this month’s free game on Xbox Live’s Games with Gold promotion!  Which would be fine if I hadn’t bought it on Stream a couple of months prior.  Annoying, but at least I bought it in the Steam sale for next to no money.  Anyway, this is supposedly set in the same universe as the Van Helsing games.  Which I have not played, so don’t expect me to explain any of the plot (what there is of it) beyond a perfunctory nod to monsters in chaos gates or somesuch.

Deathtrap Monsters
Standard machine gun turret shoots standard monster.

Tower defence games are everywhere.  On PC, consoles, phones.  You could probably play one on a potato if you were inclined to (I’m not).  Whilst there are some good ones, not many of them really do much different save for the towers doing damage in slightly odd ways.  A few have tried to shake up the formula by allowing you to control a hero character who can fight alongside the towers.  Deathtrap is one of these.  You create a character using one of three classes which fall into the standard archetypes of warrior, rogue and mage before marching off to build traps and fight monsters!  Hurrah!

Deathtrap World Map
This is the world map where you choose levels, spend gold and distribute points.

The story appears to be that we are soldiers sent to defend the portals to the real world from demons coming through chaos gates.  Or something along those lines.  The plot is fairly meaningless in this game really.  The gameplay breaks down to building traps and killing monsters.  Killing monsters earns essence which is spent on building and upgrading traps in preset locations to kill more monsters as they travel along their paths to the exit.  If they reach the exit, you lose one or more of your 20 lives.  If you’ve ever played a tower defence game, you know exactly what to expect.  Your character has a weapon and abilities to fend off monsters and power up your towers.  If you die, you will also lose a life before reappearing a moment later to continue the battle.

Deathtrap Behemoth
Large enemies seem to be designed solely as bullet sponges, although some have interesting abilities.

Completing levels earns you points to add buffs to your traps and character abilities.  You don’t earn a huge number of points here, so it pays to specialise in a style that suits you.  You can always use gold to respec if needed.  As well as points to spend, you will also collect items and weapons at the end of each level which your hero can equip.  Weapons, armour, rings and the usual array of equipment you’d expect in most RPGs can be found (or purchased between levels).

Deathtrap minions
Some traps will summon minions to fight for you.

And that’s about it.  There isn’t really anything that stands out here.  There’s a co-op mode which is nice and can make the harder challenges more manageable, and there are the usual endless modes and difficulty modifiers.  But there’s nothing here that makes this stand out from the crowd.  Worse, the game isn’t really all that polished, with pathfinding glitches and graphical errors being quite noticeable throughout.  I could forgive those if the game itself was something special, but it’s just so ordinary.  Even the traps are standard, with fire traps, ice towers and machine gun turrets.  Some spawn monsters to fight for you which is nice, and powering towers up between stages could be fun if the upgrades were more interesting than “Trap will cost 1 less essence to build”.  In gaming, there is really not much worse than being a boring game.

Deathtrap Skills
One of the point distribution screens for leveling up your abilities. These are the mage skills.

The enemies you face are fairly standard, fitting into the gothic monster style you would expect.  You have your zombies, flying creatures, some steampunk clockwork robots.  The designs are interesting enough, but most are either hordes or bullet sponges.  Some of the boss creatures are more interesting, having special effects such as healing when minions die, or disabling your towers.  Some are very aggressive and can take you out fairly quickly, so wading into battle is rarely a good move, meaning leaving your traps to do the work whilst you pick off the stragglers or use abilities to slow or weaken stronger monsters is the best course of action.  Again though, the monsters don’t really stand out, and by the 10th level you’ll have seen most of what the game has in terms of enemies, and if you’ve played a game of this style before you’ll have probably seen them anyway.

Deathtrap Inkwraith
Bigger enemies tend to cause you to lose more lives if they reach the exit.

A nice addition though, is the level creator which does exactly as you’d expect.  There’s quite a few community made levels for you to have a go at, or use to grind achievements if that’s something that takes your fancy.  Whilst this isn’t the first game in the genre to have a level creation utility, it’s always a nice feature to have, especially when it’s user friendly.

Deathtrap Ink gates
The pentagram on the ground acts as a way to teleport around the level allowing you to quickly move to where the action is.

Deathtrap is developed and published by Neocore Games.  I played the game on PC and I really wouldn’t recommend this one.  Even for free, it would be you spending your time on something that just isn’t that good.  Maybe if you’re a fan of the Van Helsing game series you could get something out of this, but otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.  It’s possible that the Xbox One version has cleaned the game up a little, and maybe added more features.  I’m sure you’ll forgive me for not wanting to put more time into it though.

2016’s Gaming Stats – Because we all really love numbers!

It’s 2017 now! That means that everything will be better now and my gym will be packed for the next 6 weeks or so. But before piling into the new year, here are a few statistics from my 2016 in gaming.

I know how you all love numbers.

Games completed – 48

Not my best year for completions, but certainly not my worst. My daughter gets ever older meaning less time for gaming (not that I’m complaining, I love spending time with her, and even at the age of 3 she wants to play video games with me!) but I balanced that with playing a number of shorter games such as Firewatch and Oxenfree. I suspect as gamers get older and start having their own families that we’ll see a larger number of these cheaper, shorter games. I would very much welcome this.

First game completed in 2016 Bloodborne on January 7th

I started on this one early December but it took me about a month to finish it (with a time of around 32 hours) due to it being the Christmas a New Year season. Absolutely loved it though. A gothic/Lovecraftian horror inspired Dark Souls game with fast paced combat? Yes please!

Last game completed in 2016Deathtrap on December 17th

I’m not going to say too much about this one here as I’m going to do a post on it soon. I will say I was annoyed to find out this was a free Games with Gold game in January as I paid real money for it a few months earlier! Anyway, just over 6 hours this took me during December over the course of a handful of days.

Most time spent on a single gameXCOM 2 (35 hours)

It should come as no surprise to some of you that this is here. I love this series, right back to playing the original as a kid. Anyway, played this through on normal, suffering a few casualties. It was just the right difficulty level to play through on, though I may return to it on a harder setting for a blog series. Perhaps I’ll even name soldiers after you, dear readers!

Biggest pain in the backside to finishThe Witness

I’m not sure if I can say I’ve finished this or not really. I did enough of the lasers to open the final challenge and complete it, but then it just reset the game. At any rate, I counted it. I played this on a charity stream early in the year and it was such a pain to play. If you don’t know how to solve a puzzle you end up sitting there for ages looking stupid. Thankfully, the chat helped me out with some of them and I made progress. Interesting game, pain to play.

Game I should have finished in 2016, but didn’t – 999: The Novel

I’ve been playing this on and off on my phone for months. I’ve seen all the endings bar the “true ending” which I think I’m approaching. The story of 9 people trapped on a sinking ship in a Saw-like game has been interesting, although the novel version features limited interaction. Anyway, it’s not a hugely long game and I feel I should have finished it by now, but mobile gaming tends to happen in short bursts and it’s resulted in this one not getting done. It should be in the next few days though with any luck!

Most read blog post in 2016 – Top Games of 2016

This doesn’t surprise me too much, people seem to love game of the year lists! I know I do and I’ve gladly read any and all game of the year posts I’ve been directed to. Maybe it’s in the hope that others agree with my humble opinion, or maybe it’s to find a gem that I missed. Either way I, and seemingly you fine folks, like a game of the year post.

Least read blog post in 2016 – Dark Souls 3

Go on, click the link. You know you want to see what you missed. It seems Dark Souls wasn’t all that popular in terms of reading. Perhaps because it’s a rather niche game, or maybe that the series is a little long in the tooth. At any rate, I love the game!

Oh, and finally:

Games in the backlog – 79

The ever growing backlog is larger now than it was at the start of 2016.  I intend to get through a good few of them in the coming weeks though!  Have a look here if you’d like to see what in the pipeline!

And that’s a little wrap up of 2016! Expect more write ups and lists in this, the newest of years. I’m also intending to drop a few board games in here and there as I do have a love of those too. If you have read even one of my posts in 2016, then thank you so much for giving up even that short amount of time. It truly does mean a lot to me that you people take time out of your busy lives for my simple words. Here’s to a great 2017!